Saturday, October 04, 2014

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints: Die before you die!

In reading Psalm 116 this week, something jumped out at me when I read verse 15, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Now, I’ve read and quoted this verse often when faced with the physical death of friends who died in faith, but for the first time, something flashed upon my mind like a sudden light: The context of this verse is not physical death, but LIFE. Every thought unit before and after this verse is divine mercy, deliverance, salvation from death, and faithful response to that deliverance from death: Living before God in the land of the living, paying vows in the presence of the people, taking up the cup of salvation and living before God in gratefulness.

In light of this, if verse 15 is simply about physical death, then it is somewhat incongruous. The entire psalm is about deliverance from death, and proper living toward God (and people) as a faithful response. Yes, Psalm 116:15 can be rightfully referenced for comfort in sorrow. But I believe there is a riveting fuller meaning to the verse: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints who are still living.

  • Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints who die while they still live.
  • Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints who pay their vows to the Lord in the presence of the people.
  • Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints who take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.


For if we have been united with Him in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died with Christ has been set free from the power of sin. Rom. 6:5-7

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 2 Cor. 4:10

I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Phil. 3:10-11

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world – right up to this moment. I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children… Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 1 Cor. 4:9-16


Leo Tolstoy, in The Death of Ivan Ilyich, writes of a court official who is suddenly stricken ill. Up to the point of his fatal illness, he has lived in comfort and adulation: Considered wise by others, high status, secure vocation, enviable family, home and property. For the first part of his illness, he lashes out at the unfairness of the affliction and the presence of pain – still caught in the illusion of self-prestige. However, as he draws nearer to physical death, the faithful light of God shines upon his conscience, and he suddenly sees his life for what it is: self-centered, shriveled in soul, unloving, temporal, illusory and sinful. He’d built a great outward life while sacrificing the inward life. Wise toward men, he’d been foolish toward God, and wounded those closest to him: his wife and children.

As this light shines upon him and his spirit awakens, Ivan cries out in confession. He asks that God might take away the pain he’s caused his family – and in this confession and sincere prayer for others, his pain disappears. He’s still dying, but for the first time he experiences true life. He also sees that the whole of life is a journey toward death, and that true life is preparation for death: Only as one dies to self in life will he live well, and then die well – into true Life.

In this awareness, Ivan cries out to his family, “Die before you die!” That is the meaning of life!


Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants. For these are the ones who truly live.



Psalm 116

I love the Lord, for He heard my voice;
    He heard my cry for mercy.
Because He turned His ear to me,
    I will call on Him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
    the anguish of the grave came over me;
    I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
    our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;

    when I was brought low, He saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.

10 I trusted in the Lord when I said,
    “I am greatly afflicted”;
11 in my alarm I said,
    “Everyone is a liar.”

12 What shall I return to the Lord
    for all His goodness to me?

13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord.
14 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all His people.

15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful servants.

16 Truly I am your servant, Lord;
    I serve you just as my mother did;
    you have freed me from my chains.

17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
    and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all His people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord
    in your midst, Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord.


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